3D Scanning

A 3D scanner is a device that analyses a real-world object or environment to collect data on its shape and possibly its appearance (i.e. color and texture). The collected data can then be used to construct digital 3D models. Scanning will not produce an exact copy, but a very close copy (can be up to .3mm per meter off). If precision is necessary, then designing your object in a CAD program is highly recommended.

There are three types of of high-resolution 3D scans we can perform:

Hand-Held Scan – Optimum for scanning larger objects, such as people, furniture, sculptures and buildings. Scanning time varies depending on lighting and the size of the object. Example: To scan a person’s head and shoulders (to make a bust) in a normal-lit area, it can take up to 10 minutes for a full scan. However a 8′ to 12′ statue will take hours. (mostly due to ladder work to capture the whole statue). This type of scanner is not optimum for objects under 8″. Our current scanner in laser mode, can scan in with the accuracy of 0.04 mm (40 microns) and low resolution mode with an accuracy of 0.5mm (50 microns). The scanner’s resolution is up to 0.05 mm.

Turntable Scan – Optimum for scanning objects between 3″ and 36″ tall.  The object is placed on the turntable and is slowly rotated as the scanner records the surface information.This type of scanner is accurate up to 0.04mm (40 microns) of detail and has a resolution up to 0.05mm. In some cases, we have to do multiple scans from different angles (i.e. scan the object, then rotate the object onto its side and scan again) to capture all sections of a part. We can determine how many scans you need once we see the part.

Micro Scan – This is a specialized scanner for objects under 3″ tall and a maximum diameter of 4.75″, such as jewelry, coins, gears, small carvings, and other tiny parts. This type of scanner uses a multi-axis turntable for precise scans. For objects under 3″, accuracy is 12µm (o.o12mm). For objects under 1.5″ we can achieve an accuracy up to 4µm (0.004mm) and a resolution of 0.001 mm. We have successfully scanned items under ¼” tall. Depending on the object’s features, multiple scans at different angles might be necessary.

3D Scanning is Perfect For

Objects with the following characteristics generally scan well: continuous surfaces with smooth curvature; varying color or texture; matte, non-shiny surfaces; opaque finishes.

3D scanning is great for 3D capture of the human form; fabrics; stone and masonry; wood carvings; sculptures; plants, flowers and other organic objects.

Broken parts can be scanned and then the surface mesh of the digitized part can be repaired and 3d printed.

3D Scanning is NOT Perfect For

3D Objects with certain characteristics may not be suitable for scanning, or may require technical workarounds to capture scans successfully. Here’s some further guidance on where scanning might not be suitable:

  • Objects with many cavities or protrusions: the scanner can only image what it ‘sees’ from its view point and cannot capture part of an object that is hidden behind another. As a general rule of thumb, a scanner can only see down ⅔ the diameter of a hole or cavity. (ex: a scanner can only capture down 0.66″ of a 1″ diameter hole). We can fix this issue digitally in the scan file.
  • Reflective objects: where light reflects off the surface to prevent accurate surface measurement (we can add a white scanning spray to temporarily dull the reflectiveness of an object. The spray evaporates after several hours, leaving virtually no residue) or reflective markers. MSDS on spray is available upon request.
  • Transparent objects: if light transmits through the surface, it will prevent accurate surface measurement (we can add a white scanning spray to temporarily dull the reflectiveness of an object. The spray evaporates after several hours, leaving virtually no residue). MSDS on spray is available upon request.

3D People Scans

We can do full body scans, bust scans (shoulders and  head), or  just scan your head and add to another object, such as a poseable action figure. Scans of people take 10-15 minutes to complete. Multiple scans may be necessary. Scans are in full-color, but if you are opting for us to 3D print the scan, the figure would be a single color, that could be hand-painted.

We can add a scanned head to male or female 3D printed poseable action figure. This figure at 12″ size fits most 1/6 scale clothes. The figure can be printed up to 24″ tall.

Reverse Engineering

One of the biggest challenges people encounter when converting physical objects to digital is a major incompatibility between two different types of 3D models: meshes and solids. Meshes are the main output of all 3D scanners, and understood by 3D printers (STLs). A mesh represents the surface of a shape with a large number of triangles, connected edge to edge. Mesh models don’t contain any information about the object — besides the position of the triangles that define the shape. Solid models contain information about how an object is designed, and this information is encoded into the model as features in a ‘stack’ of logical steps. In a CAD designed file, it’s possible to change the dimensions for a single feature, and the rest of the model will update to accommodate the change.

Since meshes lack information about the construction of the object, the ways you can alter a mesh model are limited—(i.e. CAD software can’t directly modify meshes). If you need to make major modifications to the underlying design of a scanned part, the mesh needs to be converted to a solid CAD drawing: this process is reverse engineering. This is not a 1-step process. Complex models can take many hours to refine. We charge $85/hour for reverse engineering services.


We are fully-insured for 3d scanning in museum settings. Proof of insurance is available upon request. If you require your business name added to our insurance policy as a benefactor during the project, our insurance company charges a $75 fee for creating the paperwork. This fee would be paid by the client due at time of request.

Other Scanning Services

We have been performing 3d scans for years and have accumulated many accessories that allow us to have successful scans. We have 15′ step ladders, desk on wheels for the computer and scanner, brackets, clamps, tents, extension cables, alternative power sources, etc.

  • If the object to be scanned is outdoors, we have a tent that can cover objects up to 8′ x 8′ by 14′ tall. Fee for the tent use is $200/day.
  • Our 3d scanning equipment draws a lot of power and is sensitive to power fluctuations.  Due to line drop issues, if the object to be scanned is not within 100′ of an electrical outlet, we will need to use a generator (when available, we prefer battery powered generators). Use of a generator is $200/day.

Small Object Scanning Example

This Lego Minifig is around 3″ tall and 3d scanned using a turntable and the scanner on a tripod. In the middle image, you can see some slight imperfections in the scan data, which in some cases the scanner picked up tiny imperfections in the actual model and exaggerated them. The biggest imperfections in this particular scan are the tiny gaps between the body and arm on the left side and the body and the left leg. The scanner filled these tiny gaps in because it could not see the sides of these tiny gaps. Stray scanned data was removed from the file and 3d printed at actual size.

Enlarging 3d Scans for Printing

We have had much success in enlarging 3d scans more than 800% of actual size with little to no artifacts appearing on the surface of the 3d print if the 3d scan was done at the highest resolution setting.

If you are looking to 3d print objects at various sizes, please keep in mind that when you increase the size of an object, you are increasing the dimensions in 3 directions, so the volume of material is going to increase more than the % increase in size. Example: An object is doubled in size (2x length x 2x width x 2x height, so 2 x 2 x 2=8) uses 8 times more material, not twice as much material as many people think. If tripling the size, (3 x 3 x 3 =27), volume is increased twenty-sevenfold (33 = 27). If you want to learn more, there are lots of resources online in regards to surface area to volume ratios.

This is why we recommend test prints of your 3d scan at 50% for large items. It saves a great deal of money and allows you to still see most of the imperfections that may be picked up by the 3d scanner.